The following guest opinion piece was sent to IntraFish by John Williams, executive director of the US Southern Shrimp Alliance trade organization, which represents the US wild shrimp sector, in response to the article -- Tom Mazzetta: Instead of erecting trade barriers, the US shrimp sector should invest in itself
In 1943, the United States completed a trade agreement with Mexico that dropped any duties on shrimp imports. Since then, foreign shrimp has entered the US market duty-free and we’ve faced global competition.
We’re being treated to the same pompous lectures by importers who have a lot of interesting things to say about their industry behind closed doors but can’t bring themselves to say the same words in public.
While our industry has repeatedly met the challenge, shrimpers have occasionally been forced to rally against unfair trade.
In 1960, the Senate asked the Tariff Commission to look into the imposition of a 35 percent tariff on shrimp imports. No duties were imposed.
Fifteen years later, the National Shrimp Congress petitioned for safeguard duties to be placed on all shrimp imports. Again, no duties were imposed.
A decade later, the US International Trade Commission investigated the impact of shrimp imports, finding that shrimpers’ operating income declined from 1980 to 1984 while imports reached record levels in 1984. But no trade relief was adopted.
Although we survived these challenges, thousands of families were forced out of the fishery and coastal communities suffered.
When Chinese farmed shrimp flooded the market 20 years ago, a different approach was required. Through the Southern Shrimp Alliance, a unified industry saw antidumping duty orders imposed in February 2005, marking the first and only time the industry has received trade relief.
For almost two decades, the US shrimp market supported US fishermen as well as shrimp farmers all over the world. But in 2021 an unprecedented volume of imports surged into the country. With imports pushed here by non-market forces rather than attracted by demand, boats confront dockside prices that are cascading downward, and these boats have tied up in response.
Now, the American Shrimp Processors Association (ASPA) has asked the government to address the subsidies fueling this import bonanza. For the first time in 20 years, a unified domestic industry stands behind the call for new trade relief.
Some things don’t change. Despite the unquestionable benefits that disciplining Chinese imports had for everyone in our market, we’re being treated to the same pompous lectures by importers who have a lot of interesting things to say about their industry behind closed doors but can’t bring themselves to say the same words in public.
Everyone knows that India’s government has been taking money from its people and pouring it into its shrimp industry. It is no secret that the US challenged India’s export subsidy programs at the WTO and won, even if that hasn’t resulted in a change in India’s behavior.
Our government investigated the Indian and Ecuadorian shrimp industries a decade ago and found significant countervailable subsidies.
For these reasons, don’t expect to see any serious argument that unfair trade is not shaping the US shrimp market. Instead, the playbook will be unchanged from the response to antibiotics in shrimp farming, slave labor in foreign shrimp supply chains, and the environmental damage caused by mangrove deforestation for shrimp farm expansion.
Last week, the Global Shrimp Forum Foundation released a report calling concerns about banned antibiotics in shrimp aquaculture a “myth” and explaining that “ASC and BAP certification standards require shrimp sold under their logos to be free of antibiotics.”
This week, the FDA reported refusing shrimp imports from two exporters with 4-star BAP certifications, both of whom are currently listed on FDA Import Alerts for banned antibiotics. Call it a case study in the limits of talk over substance.
Whenever anyone wants to get serious about tackling the problems that are harming everyone who sells shrimp in this market, we’re around and want to hear whatever you might have to say. But let’s no longer waste everyone’s time arguing that everything is hunky-dory.